Does new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez need to win his first game with the Wolverines, who were upset by Appalachian State in last year's opener? Is there any extra pressure for him to get off to a successful start and prevail in Saturday's debut against the Utes?
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham doesn't think so.
"Like I've said a thousand times, one game does not make or break your season. Coach Rodriguez is going to get it done there," Whittingham said. "The bottom line is he'll get it done in time. There's no question in my mind about that. He's done it everywhere he's been. He's a great football coach."
Rodriguez is entering his first year at Michigan after seven seasons at West Virginia, where he guided his alma mater to national prominence and a 60-26 record.
The move to Michigan, where he replaces Lloyd Carr, hasn't been completely smooth on or off the field. Installing a new scheme at the storied program will take time. So much so, in fact, that Rodriguez acknowledged he'd like to have another month to prepare for the upcoming season. He knows his players, however, are eager to go.
Rodriguez admits he's a bit worried about what his first Michigan team completely understands about the newly installed schemes. There are so many situations to recall, he added.
"It's like we have 105 freshmen," Rodriguez said. "That being said, I feel comfortable with what we've prepared so far. I know it'll continue to get better and better. I think our guys will react well."
Utah expects nothing less.
"I think their scheme is extremely sound," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. "And the kids that they are going to have running around on the football field are on scholarship to the University of Michigan. They are going to be good football players."
Rodriguez likes what he's seen, thus far, from the Wolverines despite not having an experienced quarterback. Freshman Steven Threet and sophomore Nick Sheridan have yet to appear in a game and are locked in a deadlock for the starting job.
"I still have a lot of question marks coming into the game Saturday, particularly because we have so many guys playing for the first time. But the guys have put in a lot of hard work," Rodriguez said. "I think everybody in the program is ready to go against another opponent. We know what the challenge is in front of us and hopefully we'll be ready."
With three returning starters on offense and seven on defense, Rodriguez's first Michigan team is loaded with question marks.
"We've just got to run our systems, compete and see what happens," he said.
Utah is taking a similar approach. With so many variables, Whittingham said the Utes will open the game with a "very generic broad-based game plan" and fine-tune it as the game progresses.
"What's important first and foremost is that we play well as a football team and that we make the proper adjustments as the game wears on," he explained. "There's a lot of unknowns."
The Utes, however, realize things won't be completely foreign. They dissected tape of Rodriguez's offense at West Virginia, defensive coordinator Scott Shafer's scheme at Stanford and Michigan's personnel from last season.
An added resource is familiarity with Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Rodriguez and the former Ute boss are good friends and Whittingham said they have a lot in common.
"They have some similarities offensively as far as their philosophy and it shows on tape," Whittingham pointed out. "You watch Florida, you watch West Virginia and the quarterback run game (featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow with the Gators and Pat White for the Mountaineers) is a big part of what they do."
Question is, will it be that way this year at Michigan?
Time will tell.
"We want guys to execute the system, not make the big turnover," Rodriguez said. "They're in their first year in the system, so everything is going to happen faster than it will as the season goes along."EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said that senior Aaron Tonga is looking good since returning to practice this week after being sidelined with an MCL strain. Tonga, he added, will be the third or fourth guy in Utah's defensive tackle rotation at Michigan ... Wide receiver Aiona Key is still waiting for his final junior college grade to be posted and has yet to join the team ... Tuesday's practice was the Utes' toughest of the week. Whittingham said things will lighten up over the next couple of days.
Rodriguez ready for opener
Rich Rodriguez will make his debut as Michigan's head coach in Saturday's season opener against Utah. Prior to taking over the Wolverines, he led West Virginia to four Big East Conference titles over the past five years. In seven seasons as head coach at his alma mater, the Mountaineers were 60-26 overall.
Utah at Michigan
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT
E-mail: [email protected]